Tudor Times to Victorian Times
It was necessary in the mid C 16th to replace the lapsed manorial system of administration. Two Acts established the Civil Parish of Yardley as the body collectively responsible for local government, answerable to the county magistracy. Each parish's major concerns - keeping the peace, highway maintenance, and poor relief - were thenceforward overseen by appointed and unpaid officials chosen from among the chief tenants.
So large a parish as Yardley could not be managed by a single team of Overseers, and initially there were three divisions, each with its own officials. All of the manor south of Warwick Road was called Broomhall End. In Stuart times the south west had become sufficiently populous to justify a further division, and Swanshurst Quarter came into being. Rate-collecting was to prove so onerous that a final sub-division into Near and Far Ends was made. The Quarters were still in being until the amalgamation of Poor Law Unions in 1912.
Detailed evidence for a view of the Quarter between the C 16-19th awaits the reconstitution of the disbanded Discovering Yardley Group or at least the production in some form of material we extracted during five years' work. The early evidence was published as 'Medieval Yardley' by the group's leader V. Skipp (1970) with maps by myself.
A steady increase in the number of farms and a shrinking of wood and waste may be assumed. Enclosure of Great Fields (on both sides of Stratford Road over Sparkhill) took place early; holdings were exchanged to permit grouping of closes near the bounding farmhouses, vacant strips were taken up be neighbours, and the whole expanse was hedged and ditched. But total enclosure came late to the rest of Swanshurst Quarter and was not complete until the 1840's.
Squatters continued to establish themselves on the common edges, eking out a living by labouring or nail-making; no early hovels survive, but their brick replacements remained on Brook and Wheelers Lanes until recently, and a cottage row still stands beside the last remnant of Showell Green, but recently obliterated by the new dwellings of Fernside Gardens.
The first bridge over the Cole hereabout was at Greet Mill, recorded in 1620. It was for foot travellers only. Horsemen and waggoners continued to use the ford - and some of them paid the penalty for trying to cross through the sudden floods to which the river has always been prone. Timber footbridges at the other four fords of the Quarter were washed away on occasion; brick replacements were not provided until the early C 15th.
Henry Beighton's 'Mapp of Warwickshire' was surveyed in 1722-5. Yardley is nearly islanded in his native county, so much can be learned from the boundary features he shows; also, the highways which cross Yardley are drawn, with their intersections. These can be matched with known lanes, so that if these are plotted and foredroves to known farms are added, a conjectural map of the early Georgian manor is produced. However, as there was probably little change in the landscape from then until early Victorian times, the known landscape of the latter period can be considered in detail in its place, while other C 18th topics are dealt with here.
The Birmingham to Edgehill Turnpike Trust was established in 1725, one of the first hereabout. Though the Trust was quick to set up tollgates (one at the top of Colebank Road opposite the new Charity School, with a cottage for the keeper alongside), it was less prompt in making real improvements to the road on which tolls were being levied. Across the gravel ridge, the highway was a rutted strip of morass as wide as the present dual carriageway at Robin Hood by winter's end, travellers having carried out the ancient obligation to tread out a new way beside the old when the latter was impassable. On the slope up from Greet Mill, Green Bank in later times, the road was a steep and narrow holloway that became a watercourse in rain. Parishioners still had to perform their statutory labour, but the Trust now provided surveyor / engineers. A narrow causeway was made on both approaches to the ford, which was later paved; the holloway was eventually infilled (probably in the 1770's when tolls were raised by a half) with hard-core, and a cambered strip of macadam road was made, of graded and rolled layers of broken stone, wide enough for two coaches to pass, with a ditch on each side, down the middle of the worn way elsewhere.
A causeway was also made to cross Spark Brook's marshy valley. More horses were drowned during Cole floods; the first wain bridge was built by the county in Regency times. Coaches went to Warwick and the capital along what for some decades was called the London road, a preferred way to the shiretown because Warwick Road was notoriously bad.
The name 'Stratford Road' came into use after the opening of the Avon Navigation, which made the town a river port. From 1745 three milestones showing the distance from the capital - 114 opposite Sparkhill Park, 113 at Cole Bank Gate. (Here 'bank' has the local meaning; it refers to the slope up from the river, not to the riverside) By the century's end five daily coaches sped along the improved turnpike to and from Birmingham, keeping strict time. The Bull's Head was not a stage for the change of horses, but a 'request' stop.
Coaches did not stop at tollgates (which were manned not by Trust employees, because they could not be trusted, but by men who had bought at auction the right to take tolls for a year); warned by the guard's horn, the keeper swung wide the gate and let the heavily-laden coach go through at speed, catching the shilling and sixpence flung to him. For necessary repairs there were blacksmiths' and wheelwrights' shops by the Colebank Gate. Footpads infested the turnpike. The worthy schoolmaster of Hall Green, Sam. Swinburne, was robbed near Greet Mill in broad daylight, and a horseman was brought down at Foremans Lane corner by a rope stretched across the road; one Jones a milliner was held up near The Mermaid; these are but three of many incidents recorded in Aris's Birmingham Gazette.
The pools of the Quarter had all been made by 1783. On Coldbath Brook there were four - Coldbath itself, Lady Mill Pool, Old or Great Pool, and Sarehole Mill Pool. Swanshurst Lady Pool (alias Grove or Moseley New Pool) had been dammed on the next brook to the south by one Henry Giles in or before 1758. All these were fishponds, whether serving mills or not; fish was a profitable crop, caught in nets, as well as a source of sport. Greet Mill Pool had been made by a weir across the river, and this was enlarged in 1775. There were two pools on the south bound which serviced, Colebrook Priory (Bates or Bach) Mill and Shirley Hall; and in 1783 the 7.5 acre pool of Titterford Mill was dug out of the Coleside meadow, with a long dam on the river side, and a leat from Chinn Brook.
There were probably footbridges across all the Cole fords by the end of the C18th. These timber structures were not infrequently swept away by floods- which worsened as the destruction of woodland caused faster run-off from the clay, though they subsided as quickly as they rose. Even today the river can rise as much as six feet from its usual six inches in an hour. but it falls just as quickly. Only one wooden footbridge, and that dating from the late 1930's, can be seen today - at Green Road ford.
All the others were replaced early last century, but by brick footbridges only except at Titterford. Four Arches Bridge, narrow and with a low parapet to permit packhorses to cross without catching their loads, was built and maintained by Yardley Great Trust. Bridges over millraces had to be repaired by the tenant millers. Paving of fords, after centuries of merely dumping more gravel into the potholes, was confined to the turnpikes; only this century have the local ones been concreted.
In the 1790's a development of importance to the southern part of the Quarter was the construction of the canal to Stratford. It began at a junction with the Worcester Canal near Lifford, followed the valley of Chinn Brook, and entered Yardley at Warstock, where wharves were made. Thence it went south in a deep cutting through Yardley Wood Common and paralleled the boundary brook for three furlongs before turning into Solihull Lodge. An old lane which became School Road crossed it on High Bridge, a brick arch which still impedes traffic.
Not only were supplies of coal for domestic hearths and mill engines brought by boat, but also lime for local kilns and iron rods for cottage nailers. There was a fast flyboat service to Worcester Bar in Birmingham. For most of the Quarter's folk, however, the fast stage-coach or the slow stage-wagon on the Turnpike was the only way of reaching the smoky town other than horseback or on foot. By 1803 the canal had reached Kingswood and a junction there with the Warwick Canal; in 1816 the line was complete to Stratford, so that Swanshursters had access by water to London, the Avon Navigation, and Bristol.
At a meeting in 1832 at the Bull's Head the principal landowners of the parish decided to seek enclosure of the remaining open fields (200 acres in Church End and Greet Quarters) and commons (650 acres, mostly in our Quarter, comprising Showell Green, Wake Green, Greet Common, Swanshurst Slade, Billesley and Sarehole Commons, and Yardley Wood). Piecemeal enclosure at the edges had reduced all these. A Bill was passed in '33, and the land was eventually shared among the promoters and those few others who had documentary proof of their rights to common; the land was sold to the promoters of the Bill, who then paid the money back to themselves, thus recouping the cost of the Parliamentary process.
Nearly all the commons were thus acquired by the Taylors, two members of which family then owned half (1368 acres) of the whole Quarter. See Map 10. The land was duly hedged and ditched in regular quadrilateral closes. A piece of land 4 acres in extent was designated as a gravel pit and deeply quarried for some sixty years of road-mending; it is still there filled with trees, beside Wake Green Road opposite Gracewell Lane. Two pieces of land were set aside as allotments for the poor, off Springfield Lane and Stoney Lane.